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The stories we tell ourselves

David
David wrote this on 7 comments

The progress of technology needs a full spectrum of adoption to work well. From early adopters who jump in before kinks and warts have been banished, to a late majority who bring scale to the now-safe choice.

If we didn’t have any early adopters ironing out the kinks, there’d never be a now-safe choice for the late majority. And if everyone always jumped on the latest thing on day one, society would waste needless cycles churning through the broken glass of beta software.

But usually people see things a little narrower. They’ve picked a group to belong to, and along with it the story that serves it just. I find that a constant and fascinating example of how we’ll all tell ourselves what we need to hear to feel good about our choices.

In most cases, for example, I like to be an early adopter. Take getting the first version of the Macbook Air, while many fretted about and scorned it for too few ports or not enough speed. I accepted the shortcomings by telling myself that this is ultimately The Future, and I want to be among the pioneers that drags us there, even if it’s a bumpy ride across the frontier.

Further, that if everyone wanted to wait until all the bugs were squashed, the bugs would never be found in the first place, and thus never squashed. See, isn’t that a lovely altruistic cover story for what could just as well be labeled as technological ADD, and just wanting the latest thing BECAUSE?

Same deal works on the other end. There are all these great stories available about how you’re being prudent by waiting to take the plunge on a new product, such that you don’t waste money or resources before the inevitable version 2 or 3. A story filled with the virtue of restraint: An ability to resist the draw of SHINY NEW THINGS.

What’s great is that all these stories can be true at the same time, even if they’re individually in conflict. I can even feel good about a chosen story for my current choice, and then swap to the opposite story for my next choice. Self-deception is grand.

A Year of The Distance

Wailin Wong
Wailin Wong wrote this on 1 comment

A year ago, The Distance published its first story: a profile of 110-year-old Horween Leather Co., Chicago’s last remaining tannery. Since then, we’ve visited an 18,000-square-foot costume and wig store and a vintage tiki bar with its own gift shop. We’ve met a custom bra fitter who started her business as a single mom and the second-generation owner of an auto salvage yard that ran the same commercial on local television for 30 years. We launched The Distance because we believe the people behind long-running businesses have amassed a lot of wisdom from their decades of experience. At the heart of each story is the question: “How have you stayed in business for so long?” The answers we’ve collected so far are nuanced and varied, reflecting the complexities that each business owner has faced. Their lessons are difficult to reduce to a list of handy aphorisms. But one year seems as good a time as any to take stock in some way, so here are a few themes that have emerged from the last 12 months.
Take pride in your product: Van Dam Custom Boats makes just two to four of its handcrafted wooden boats each year. Each one takes eight months to two years to finish. As you might imagine, the market for a luxury item of this kind is relatively small, and business took a hit during the latest recession. But the Van Dams took the lull to recommit to their reputation as the maker of the world’s finest wooden boats, no hyperbole intended. They limited production to increase demand and raise their prices, and today they have a waiting list of about three years. Horween Leather has taken a similar approach, focusing on the high end of its market despite pressure in its industry to move toward lower-cost manufacturing. As Nick Horween says in our story, “It just has to be the best you can make it. You put all the best stuff into it so you can get the best of out of it, and get your price or don’t sell it.” Don’t become a commodity: Shrinking margins and slow growth are an ever-present threat in the corrugated box business. That’s why the Eisen brothers, who run Ideal Box Co., have shaped their family-owned manufacturer into a specialist in the corrugated retail displays you see at supermarkets and big-box stores. Scott Eisen says they never want to be a “me-too corrugated company.” Tom Benson of the World’s Largest Laundromat had the same thought about his business. Coin-operated, self-service laundromats can be found on virtually every block of his town, and they tend to look and run the same. The World’s Largest Laundromat does things differently, and the family-friendly amenities it provides has made its store into a destination and community center. Channel your artistic passion in practical ways: Jim Jozwiak of Band For Today was a professional trumpet player with a burgeoning freelance career who discovered a bigger, more lucrative opportunity: providing music education in schools that lacked their own programs. Bruce MacGilpin of The Icon Group was studying sculpture and helping his university manage on-campus art shows when he met a traveling puppeteer who didn’t have a proper storage system for his puppets. MacGilpin built some basic wooden crates lined with packing material for the man, a job that introduced him to the fine arts services industry. Today his business stores and transports priceless works of art for museums, galleries and private collectors. Find new markets and customers: The founder of Hollymatic invented a machine for molding hamburger patties that played a big role in the advent of the American fast food nation. McDonald’s, Burger King and Wendy’s used to be customers. When those chains became mega corporations, they outgrew Hollymatic. Now the maker of meat-processing equipment sells its products to grocery stores, butcher shops and smaller restaurants—ones that, unlike fast food places, make fresh patties. Elsewhere in the world of beloved American foods, Ingrid Kosar was the first to patent the thermal pizza delivery bag in 1983 and signed up companies like Domino’s in the early days of her business. But she didn’t have the market to herself for very long and later lost Domino’s as a customer. Kosar took what she learned about insulating food and started making products for companies outside of the pizza industry, like Meals on Wheels and Panera Bread. Thanks for reading The Distance and listening to our podcast during our first year. Please keep sending feedback and suggestions for businesses to profile to tips@thedistance.com. Here’s to another year of stories!

The homescreens of Basecamp (2015)

Jamie
Jamie wrote this on 8 comments

Back in 2011 and 2013, we shared our phone homescreens with you. We get a kick out of how others personalize their mobile phones. A lot’s changed since then: we have a few more folks on Android, there are 3 varieties of iPhones (6 is the most popular), some of us like having monster phones, and there’s even a Watch among us.


Attention: there are a lot of homescreens in this post. The screens all start to blur together (apart from the Android ones), but they’re all interesting when you take the time to examine them. This is a great article for your lunchtime/afternoon break browsing…

Continued…

Poison

Nathan Kontny
Nathan Kontny wrote this on 1 comment

How do we get better at making things people want?

We strive to better discern the needs of our customers, so we reach for a number of tools. Surveys. User testing. 'Jobs to be done' interviews (an interview process I highly recommend). But in our effort to understand our customers, we often miss sight of something much more basic and integral to those things working well.


The University of Edinburgh Medical School, one of the best medical schools in the United Kingdom, was created in 1726, also making it one of the oldest medical schools in the English speaking world. Given its age, it has quite an interesting group of alumni. Like Joseph Bell.

He was a graduate and professor at the school in the 1800s. Bell had an uncanny ability to determine things about his patients from what seemed to be unrelated and insignificant details. For example, without even talking to the man, Bell determined one patient was a soldier, a non-commissioned officer, and served in Bermuda. How'd achieve such a feat? Bell had observed the patient walking into the room without taking his hat off, as a soldier would. His authoritative posture and age gave him a clue that he was a non-commissioned officer. And the rash on his head? Could only have come from Bermuda.

Joseph Bell's name probably still doesn't sound familiar. But you know his alias – Sherlock Holmes.

Sherlock Holmes wasn't pure fiction. Sir Arthur Conan Doyle, the author of the Sherlock Holmes stories, was also an alumnus of The University of Edinburgh Medical School where he trained as a physician. Sherlock Holmes was an amalgamation of people he'd crossed paths with, especially his medical school professors Joseph Bell and Sir Robert Christison.

Christison was an early forefather of forensic medicine. In 1828, there was a string of murders in Edinburgh, Scotland. Christison helped prove that William Burke and William Hare had been suffocating their victims and then selling the corpses to medical schools.

But Christison was also known for calabar beans. Calabar beans are poisonous, and were used as a justice system in African tribes. They would crush the beans into a milk-like drink for prisoners. Those who died from the drink were "guilty". Those who lived – innocent.

Researchers today find this form of justice might be more accurate than it at first sounds. People who believed in their innocence and the system would probably drink the poison instantly, causing their stomach to immediately vomit and regurgitate the poison, sparing their life. Guilty people, however, believing the drink would kill them, drank slowly trying to elongate their life, but instead dampened their stomach's ability to reject the poison.

Christison knew of the calabar beans' danger, and yet one day, he took a lethal dose and ingested them. Why? Was he trying to kill himself? Was he trying to prove his innocence of something?


If you were anywhere near Facebook or Twitter at the end of February 2015, you've seen this photo. The photo of #thedress was taken by Cecilia Bleasdale, the mother of a bride-to-be, who wanted to show her daughter and bridal party what she'd be wearing at her daughter's wedding.

But they couldn't tell. People split into two camps: you saw blue and black or you saw white and gold. The entire internet broke into debate. I watched friends, designers, photographers, neuroscientists, engineers, even magicians dissecting the photo, trying to explain what we were seeing.

In the end, a representative of the company that makes the dress put an end to the debate: it was blue and black. They don't make a white and gold one. (They probably will, now.) And here's another photo of Cecilia, with the newly married couple:

What I found most interesting about the original photo is the gap it shows between explicit and tacit knowledge.

Explicit knowledge is: "knowledge that can be readily articulated, codified, accessed and verbalized. It can be easily transmitted to others."

The photograph codified what Grace's mom saw that day of her dress, and it was easily sent across the globe to millions of people. But so many of us were wrong about what the information actually described. We saw one thing, and it described another.

Scientist and philosopher, Michael Polanyi, invented the term "tacit knowledge" in 1958. Tacit knowledge is: "knowledge that is difficult to transfer to another person by means of writing it down or verbalizing it." It's knowledge that we can only experience ourselves.

Polanyi would describe riding a bike as an example of tacit knowledge. I couldn't show you how to ride one by teaching you about gravity and centripetal force. I couldn't even give you step by step directions on the mechanics of how the body needs to pedal a bike for you to succeed. Only after you get on that bike and fall, try again, and fall, will you eventually gain the tacit knowledge you need to ride.

We experience this world, but we can't transmit all of it to others. Even the simple stuff, like a photograph of a dress, can be misinterpreted.

Professor Stephen Westland, is an expert in color science at the University of Leeds who the BBC consulted with when writing about #thedress. He explained: "It is possible that people could literally be seeing different colours but it's impossible to know what is in someone's head."

Exactly what Polanyi said about tacit knowledge:

We can know more than we can tell.

After Christison ingested the poisonous beans, he began feeling the symptoms. Paralysis. He started going blind. He began to die.

But Christison grabbed a bowl of water he used to clean his shaving razor and face, and drank it. He immediately began vomiting, which saved himself from the rest of the poison's effects. Christison lived.

Christison wasn't trying to kill himself. He was trying to bridge the gap between explicit and tacit knowledge. As a doctor, all he's given is what a patient tells him, or what he can see. Like the photograph of the dress. But he couldn't read a patient's mind. He couldn't tell if a patient was describing correctly how they feel or the history of what they've gone through.

Christison needed to experience what the actual symptoms were of being poisoned. He needed tacit knowledge to reach his full potential as a physician.


Mike Markkula gave two guys $250,000 to fund a business they were running out of their garage, Apple. But Markkula wasn't just a source of funds. In an interview, Steve Wozniak says Markkula was probably more responsible for the early success of Apple than Wozniak was himself. He chased down more capital. He found the first CEO and become the second CEO when the first left. He was even the one who approved the original plan for the Macintosh.

One of the most interesting contributions Markkula made to Apple was a marketing philosophy that appears to still guide Apple today. Just 3 points he wrote up in 1977:

1) Focus. In order to do a good job of those things that we decide to do, we must eliminate all of the unimportant opportunities.

You especially see this play out in Apple's revival when Jobs returned in 1997. Jobs re-focused the company from dozens of different products and variations (Apple once made printers and game consoles) to just 4 product lines: consumer, pro, desktop and mobile.

2) Impute. People DO judge a book by its cover. We may have the best product, the highest quality, the most useful software etc.; if we present them in a slipshod manner, they will be perceived as slipshod; if we present them in a creative, professional manner, we will impute the desired qualities.

The time and attention Apple spends presenting its products is often unheard of, and the results speak for themselves.

But the point on Markkula's list that I think should draw more attention from people making products is:

3) Empathy. We will truly understand their needs better than any other company.

Markkula chose his words wisely. Just like Christison, he knew that to truly understand a customer's needs better than anyone else, we need to empathize with them – not sympathize. Listening with sympathetic ears to our customers isn't enough. Why? That photo shows us why. People can't communicate everything they experience. Even if they present us with a photo, we easily misinterpret it. And we can't read their minds.

It's of course not always easy. Some things are difficult to mirror. But if we want to be able to gain the deepest insights from the interviews we have with customers, if we want to reach our full potential as a designer, as a listener, as a human being, we need to improve our ability to empathize. This isn't just "dogfooding" our products. We need to share the actual life experiences of our customers and neighbors. It's up to us to poison ourselves.

P.S. You should follow me on Twitter: here for more articles.

Programming with toys and magic should be relished, not scorned

David
David wrote this on 9 comments

In the early days of Rails, a common dismissal of the framework and its Ruby roots were that these were just toys. Something for kids or amateurs to play with; to build a quick throw-away prototype or system of no consequence. It was most certainly not a tool for professionals building real systems for enterprise, king, or country.

Explicit in this charge against Rails and Ruby laid a grander, sweeping dismissal of toys of all kinds. And more specifically, a rejection of fun and enjoyment as valid reasons for adoption of technology that remains prevalent to this day.

The implication that real professionals do not bother with such childish indulgences. Making Serious Business Software is meant to be a chore. Something to be endured, not relished. An activity worthy of a stiff upper lip, not a smirk.

This charge against childish affection for unserious toys is often expanded to all sorts of wonder, and in particularly magic. In some circles, magic is now downright a dirty word. A label to be applied to anything appealing to greater aspirations than the khaki slacks efficiency of all that oh-so-serious Real Business Software.

But take a step back. Why on earth would we want to associate such joyful memories of learning about the world and its mysteries through toys and magic with that which is beneath us? Even though our goal may well be Serious, why must our approach? Since when is fun, novelty, and exploring the unknown at odds with productivity or value?

A phrase that’s been bothering me for a long time ties all this together: “Use the best tool for the job”. It implies that there is an objective, “best” tool for any programming job. And it leads the search towards those beige horizons of key-point comparisons and feature charts. This does X, Y, Z, thus it must be better than that which only does X and Y. It allows no room for simply preferring A to B on the account that it’s more fun!

Today Ruby and Rails are rarely accused outright of being toys. After more than a decade with roaring, overwhelming success creating an endless stream of “Yup, That’s Serious” business applications, the charge is now obviously preposterous.

But the same charges are still constantly brought against many things new, and as a favorite euphemism for toy goes, “unproven”. If there’s any sense of wonder or unexplained advantage, it readily gets that scornful label of “magic”.

It’s the lingua franca of the incumbents. The manifestations of a rigid minds trying so hard to appear above that childish sense of wonder.

The bottomline: Waging war on toys, magic, and wonder is simply a poor frame of reference. Many of us got into programming exactly because it seemed like magic, like playing with toys. Constructing intricate worlds out of nothing. Legos of logic and rabbit holes of learning.

Love thy toys; love thy magic.

Would you hire the last Delta representative you spoke with if you owned a customer service company?


First question in the Delta Airlines customer service follow-up survey. Love it.

Constrained

Nathan Kontny
Nathan Kontny wrote this on 12 comments

For years I’ve chatted with smart, ambitious people and friends who want to start new projects or businesses. Often their visions are big. So they dream up equally big things their startups need: money, connections, resources. And that’s where they get stuck. They don’t have any of those things.


In 1978, an artist named Patricia came home to her husband and announced she quit her job at a newspaper. She just couldn’t stand it anymore. Occasionally, she’d have some of her art posted on the front page, which was great. But most of the time, the job was corporate tediousness.

Patricia’s husband Mel understood. He was a writer at the same newspaper. Sometimes he’d get an interesting assignment, but often he was stuck writing obituaries.

There was just one problem. He was sitting at home waiting to tell her the exact same thing. He had quit that day too.

Patricia and Mel were now both unemployed with little savings. To make ends meet, they took up freelance magazine assignments. But the income wasn’t consistent, and they could barely make rent.

They couldn’t stand working for someone else. But they couldn’t make enough money freelancing.

So, they decided to start a clothing store. But all they had in capital was next month’s rent, $1500. Could they start a store with this? Not likely. They sought out a bank loan. They were turned down. So how do they get past this?


The Oakland A’s have one of the lowest budgets of any baseball team in the United States. The owner’s cheap. Their stadium sucks. Fan attendance is terrible. If you’re going to see a game near Oakland, folks just go watch the Giants in San Francisco.

To make matters worse, back around 2002, the big teams with huge budgets kept scooping up their best players. The A’s couldn’t compete with the New York Yankees or Boston Red Sox who had a 100 million dollars to spend on players vs. the A’s 40 million.

To everyone’s surprise though, the A’s started winning games. A lot of them. The 2002 Oakland A’s won just as many games as the Yankees did that season. And the A’s put up streaks like 16-1 in June 2002, and ended the season with 20 wins in a row, one of the longest winning streaks in baseball history.

The A’s success was made famous in Michael Lewis’ book, Moneyball, and the Hollywood movie with the same name starring Brad Pitt. Moneyball publicized the strategy the A’s general manager, Billy Beane, used to win games.

He used statistical analysis, or Sabermetrics as it’s known in baseball, to find players that were overlooked by other teams. Players that might not look like typical all stars but somehow got on base a lot. He looked for old players past their prime. He even learned from statistics to avoid high school players traditional scouts valued. Sabermetrics showed that high school players’ performances weren’t a good predictor of Major League success.

Using these new analytics, they found cheap players who, in aggregate, replaced the numbers they lost when their stars joined other teams.

But something happened after the book came out in 2004. The A’s started losing again. Why? The competition started copying them. Other teams were now hiring their own statisticians, even stealing members of Billy’s management staff. The Red Sox hired the inventor of Sabermetrics, Bill James, and with their own Sabermetrics-created team and huge budget, the Red Sox won the 2004 World Series.

In response, Billy Beane started backing off of some of the things he’d learned from Sabermetrics. Since other teams were now avoiding high school players, those players became undervalued. In 2006, Billy spent his first two draft picks on high school kids. And that season he started winning again, taking the division and the first series of the playoffs.

And just like any ultra-competitive market, things changed again. The A’s found themselves losing their advantage and having to innovate.

In 2012 and 2013, Billy was on top once again, and the A’s won their division and made it to the playoffs. This time Billy was using less Sabermetrics and more an approach of: find cheap resources, configure them in different ways, and see what works.

Ted Baker, a professor at Rutgers Business School, argues in his paper, Winning an unfair game, The Oakland A’s weren’t successful because of statistical analysis. They were successful because of bricolage.

Bricolage is the construction of something new from a diverse range of available things – often cheap because people take them for granted or consider them garbage.

Billy Beane was assembling teams from garbage. No one wanted Scott Hatteberg after he was cut from the Rockies in 2002. He was a catcher who couldn’t throw because of an injury. Garbage. But Billy put him at first base where he didn’t have to throw and they could still take advantage of his great hitting.

Sean Doolittle is another example of a player who played first base but now wasn’t any good as a hitter because of an injury. So Beane gave him a shot on the mound in 2012 to see if he could go back to being a pitcher (which he played in high school and some of college). He turned out to be their best relief pitcher.

Sabermetrics helped Billy in 2002 and 2003, but when everyone started using it, what was once undervalued went up in price. So he looked for other ways to assemble cheap resources, often thrown away by other teams as garbage, until he found a new, valuable combination. That was always his game.


Patricia and Mel were stuck. They couldn’t afford to manufacture new clothes. So they bought surplus shirts for almost nothing. The seller was just happy to get them out of his warehouse.

The old shirts smelled terrible. But they didn’t have enough money to launder them. So they used their home washing machine one load at a time.

They didn’t have the money to rent a store, so they first started selling their shirts from a flea market. When that did ok, they found a store to rent for $250 a month – dirt cheap even in 1980’s prices. Why was it so cheap? Again, it was garbage no one wanted. The store had to stay unlocked at night so that students of the martial arts school upstairs had an entrance open for evening classes. No legitimate retailer would rent a store they couldn’t lock.

They wanted to create a catalog. But they couldn’t afford the glossy, thick, bound ones their competition had. So, Mel wrote his own. They couldn’t afford photos. So, Patricia drew pictures of their clothes. They stapled, addressed, and mailed them all themselves.

They couldn’t even afford shelves for their store, so they used wooden fruit crates Mel found in the garbage outside a market.

On and on, Mel and Patricia made do with what they had on hand, often, literally, garbage.


When Patricia and Mel were deciding on a name for their company, they thought about the surplus clothing they were buying. Most of it from unstable tropical countries. Aha. The perfect name of their business would be: Banana Republic.

Patricia and Mel Ziegler founded Banana Republic which they sold to The Gap in 1983, and continued to run for 5 years after the acquisition. During Patricia and Mel’s tenure, Banana Republic became one of the most successful apparel retailers in the world, with more revenue per square foot of retail space than any other retailer in the United States – double the national average.

Of course they had more resources and capital than they knew what to do with after the Gap acquisition, but the only way they got there, the only way they got to that point and out-competed everyone else, was doing the same thing Billy Beane’s been doing. They went with what they had on hand or could find in the trash. They refused to reach for things they couldn’t acquire. They didn’t sit around wishing the universe would change to meet their dreams.

As you can read in the wonderful story Patricia and Mel Zielgler wrote about their founding of Banana Republic in Wild Company, Mel and Patricia probably lucked out finding those jobs at that newspaper prior to Banana Republic. That’s afterall where they learned journalism’s classic proverb: “Go with what you’ve got.”

P.S. You should follow me on Twitter: here for more articles.

Imagining Basecamp on Apple Watch

Jason Z.
Jason Z. wrote this on 11 comments

Over the last day or so I spent some time learning about the different Apple Watch components (notifications, glances, WatchKit app) and imagined how Basecamp might work on the upcoming device. Here’s what I came up with.

Notifications are a given for Apple Watch. The ability to see what’s new in your projects simply by raising your wrist sounds fantastic.

Apple Watch mentions flow

Canned, quick-reply options could be great. I also like the idea of setting your status as an option when notifications start piling up.

Apple Watch pings flow

It’s interesting how the actions can change depending on what kind of communication it is—there are a ton of possibilities. Comments, for example, could offer “Stop following” or “Bookmark” (not shown).

Apple Watch comments flow

Glances are for quick information display, a great place for state-of-the-world type content. This glance answers the question, “Is anything new in Basecamp?” by showing what’s new for you by bucket and how many items are in each.

Apple Watch glances


Notifications and Glances are outside the WatchKit app, itself. Here are some additional sketches showing how full a WatchKit app could look:

Apple Watch screens

I went into this skeptical but came out convinced there is a lot in Basecamp that could be useful on a watch. Notifications seem natural, in particular, but any kind of communication has potential. These simple designs use mostly stock UI widgets until we have a better idea what can or should be customized further. We’re certain to have new ideas once we have the device on our wrists.

Look and Feel and Feel

Jason Fried
Jason Fried wrote this on 16 comments

Designers often talk about the look and feel of a product, an app, an object, etc. These are good concepts to be talking about, but how the thing feels isn’t really the important feel. The important feel is how it makes you feel. That feeling isn’t usually covered by look and feel discussions.

This has recently come into focus for me. The trigger? Instagram.

I’ve been on Twitter (@jasonfried) for years. Since I don’t have a Facebook account, Twitter has been my only social networking outlet. I mostly use it for sharing novel or interesting things I’ve seen or read, the occasional quote, or a point of view, perspective, or epiphany about something business related.

I follow just under 200 people. Some of them I know personally, others I’ve never met, some are brands, some are individuals, some are because of hobbies or special interests, some are dead serious, others funny or silly. It’s a healthy mix, and I try to pay attention to everything that shows up in my feed.

Twitter’s an amazing thing, no question. I think it’s one of the most important products ever, and it’s absolutely changed the way ideas, news, insights, complaints, and casual communications happen.

A few months ago I signed up for Instagram (@jason.fried). I started following a few people – some of the same people I follow on Twitter. Almost immediately I felt something – I felt good! Instagram makes me feel good. I enjoy thumbing through Instagram.

Since then, every time I’ve gone back to Twitter, I’ve noticed I’ve felt anxious, unhappy, uncomfortable. I didn’t notice this before I started using Instagram, because I didn’t have anything to contrast it with. It was just the way it was, and I didn’t think much about how it made me feel.

Every scroll through Twitter puts at least one person’s bad day, shitty experience, or moment of snark in front of me. These are good happy people – I know many of them in real life – but for whatever reason, Twitter is the place they let their shit loose. And while it’s easy to do, it’s not comfortable to be around. I don’t enjoy it.

Every scroll through Instagram puts someone’s good day in front of me. A vacation picture, something new they got that they love, pictures of nature, pictures of people they love, places they’ve been, and stuff they want to cheer about. It’s just flat out harder to be negative when sharing a picture. This isn’t a small thing – it’s a very big deal. I feel good when I browse Instagram. That’s the feel that matters.

So now I have a choice… When I have a few minutes to kill, and my phone is in front of me, I almost always reach for Instagram. I never regret it. I come away feeling the same or better. When I occasionally reach for Twitter, I discover someone’s pissed about something. I often come away feeling worse, feeling anxious, or just generally not feeling great about the world. Twitter actually gives me a negative impression of my friends. I know it’s not Twitter doing it, but it’s happening on Twitter. that’s how Twitter feels to me.

None of this has anything to do with how the apps look or feel. It’s not the buttons, it’s not the animations, it’s not the interface or visual design. It’s not the colors, it’s not the font, it’s not the transitions. It’s how using the apps make me feel before, during, and after. The sense of anticipation (am I about to see something wonderful vs. am I about to get a dose of someone’s bad day?), the things I experience as I scroll through (a butterfly vs. an injustice), and how I feel once I’m done (that was nice vs. fuck that – ugh).

The Twitter vs. Instagram experience is really reinforcing what matters when designing a product. What kind of behavior can we encourage? What kind of moments can we create for people? What do people anticipate before they use something? How does it leave them feeling when they’re done? These are now some of the most important questions for me when working on a design.

BTW: You can follow me on Twitter at @jasonfried or on Instagram at @jason.fried. I promise to keep both positive.